Attention and working memory in human auditory cortex


Human sensory systems are organized into processing hierarchies within cortex, such that incoming sensory information is analyzed and compiled into our vivid sensory experiences. Computations that are common to these sensory systems include the abilities to maintain enhanced focus on particular aspects of incoming sensory information (i.e., attention) and to retain sensory information in a short-term memory store after such sensory information is no longer available (i.e., working memory). In at least the auditory and visual systems, the necessary computational steps to create these experiences take place in cloverleaf clusters of cortical field maps (CFMs). The human auditory CFMs represent the spectral (i.e., tones) and temporal (i.e., period) aspects of sound, which are represented along the cortical surface as two orderly gradients that are physically orthogonal to one another: tonotopy and periodotopy, respectively. Knowledge of the properties of such CFMs is the foundation for understanding the specific sensory computations carried out in particular cortical regions. This chapter reviews current research into auditory nonverbal attention, auditory working memory, and auditory CFMs, and introduces the next steps to measure the effects of attention and working memory across the known auditory CFMs in human cortex using functional MRI.

The Human Auditory System